June 29, 2010

Help wanted, help needed

Put so elegantly by Aaron Gleeman, the Minnesota Twins have slumped away their lead in the A.L. Central and now, for the first time since April 5th, are not in first place. Poor offense and horrendous pitching is a baseball team's worst nightmare, and the Twins have had both. Other than a couple players, the Twins have been horrendous in a month they usually "get going."

The rumor mills have been churning and the Twins have found themselves caught up in the middle of a lot of them. Thanks to a new revenue and high expectations, the Twins have put themselves in position to be "buyers" at this July's trade deadline. But unlike in other years, the Twins have the opportunity to add a legitimate difference maker (which isn't to say the players we've added in past years didn't make a difference).

There have been three names that don't seem to be going away: Cliff Lee, Dan Haren and Roy Oswalt.

All three of these guys have something in common; they are all pitchers. And not only are they pitchers, they're great pitchers. Why not look for offense? Because good hitters are hard to come by this year, especially if you're comparing them to the quality of pitchers that are believed to be available. Or least that's the way I see it, feel free to disagree.

So looking at those pitchers, who should the Twins go after? If it were up to me, my choice is probably the most unlikely. Being a big fan of player development, I don't like the thought of acquiring a "rental" player. If the Twins don't believe they can re-sign the player they require, I don't want to see them give up a lot to acquire them. That philosophy has been the Twins M.O. for years, and it's one I completely agree with.

So do I believe Lee is the best fit? Well pitching-wise, yes. He's had success in the American League Central and fits the Twins model of pitchers who have great control.

But unlike Oswalt and Haren, Lee is a free agent at the end of the season, which means he'd likely be acquired as a "rental." Could the Twins re-sign him? Maybe, but I think that's highly doubtful with the New York Yankees already salivating about the thought of acquiring him.

How about Oswalt? He has two years remaining on his contract and he also has a history of success. But while his contract would ensure that he's here for more than three months, the salary he's receiving is probably a bit much for the Twins to absorb, especially if they're trading multiple highly-touted prospects to acquire him.

So that leaves Haren. While he's struggled this season, there's no doubt that he is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Since joining the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008, Haren is 37-24 with a 3.51 ERA and 8.7 K/9, which includes his 4.65 ERA.

So what makes Haren so desirable? That he's under team control through 2012, with an option for 2013. And the salary? He's making $8.25 million in 2010, he'll make $12.75 in 2011 and 2012 with a $15.5 million club option in 2013. A very manageable price for a very good pitcher.

But all of this really means nothing unless you compare the packages that it'd take to acquire each player. The Twins most valuable trading chip is Wilson Ramos, a highly-touted catcher who is blocked by Joe Mauer. But while Ramos is expendable, trading him for Lee should be out of the question. Ramos' potential is too good to trade him for three months of Lee, unless you can guarantee two things: a clause which states, "If the Twins do not win the World Series, we will return Wilson Ramos to them," or a window of opportunity to work out a contract extension. Unfortunately, neither will happen. The most I trade for Lee is Nick Blackburn, Ben Revere and Anthony Slama. I'd assume another team could top that, but I do think the Mariners would accept that if they're that serious about moving him.

The Astros already have a young catcher named Jason Castro, who they selected in the first round of the 2008 draft, so Ramos probably wouldn't entice them as a centerpiece. They would probably ask for a package of young pitchers and outfielders, which the Twins definitely have. Other than Kyle Gibson, who is likely "untouchable," David Bromberg is the Twins best pitching prospect. And other than Aaron Hicks, who is also probably "untouchable," (at least in this case) the Twins have Angel Morales, Joe Benson and Revere as young outfielders.

And then there's the Diamondbacks. The hard thing about trading with Arizona is that for the most part, they have a very young team, with most of their positions "filled" for the next few years. So why would they want to trade Haren? Because for one reason or another, they're trying to free up cap space, and Haren's their highest paid player. Would Ramos entice them as a centerpiece? With Miguel Montero on the team, you wouldn't think so, but Montero is set to begin arbitration this winter, so they may look to move him to a club with catching needs. But Ramos, of course, would only be a starting piece. On top of him, I'm sure one of the three outfielders I previously mentioned would need to be included, as would a young pitcher.

So what would my offer be? Well...

Wilson Ramos
David Bromberg
Angel Morales
Anthony Slama


Dan Haren

There has been a lot of talk that some of these teams could target Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker or Nick Blackburn in a trade, but since I think the Diamondbacks are serious about saving money, I didn't include any of them in this offer. The only starter that they'd probably be interested in is Slowey, which (for me) would immediately eliminate both Bromberg and Morales from the offer.

Mentioning Slowey in trade talks amongst Twins fans is a form of sacrilege, but I have no problem saying that I'd trade him in a heartbeat, if it makes sense. However, I think the Twins would be better-off keeping all of their starting pitchers.

What are your thoughts? Should we focus on pitching? Who would you target? How much is "too much?" Feel free to send me an e-mail at jajohnson021@yahoo.com.

June 16, 2010

Is a major lineup change needed?

[Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images]

Delmon Young
is on fire. And that's probably an understatement. For those who haven't noticed, Young is now hitting .295/.333/.500 with 15 doubles, eight home runs and 41 RBI. He also has a 14-to-22 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Last year, Young had 12 walks and 92 strikeouts. It wasn't even a month ago that Young was hitting .250/.304/.438 with nine doubles, four home runs and 16 RBI. But in the last 22 games, Young has hit .368/.386/.605 with six doubles, four home runs and 25 RBI.

As someone who has never ridiculed Bill Smith for acquiring Young, and someone who has always been a big fan of his (Young), I'm excited to see him hitting with such authority. Since joining the Twins prior to the 2008 season, Young has been awful until the second-half of the season. But the fact that he's on pace to hit 44 doubles, 22 home runs and drive in 111 runners at this point of the season is very encouraging.

A lot of people have been clamoring for Young to be moved up in the lineup, but people need to be more aware of the situation than what's on the surface. It's easy to see that Michael Cuddyer, the player who would likely swap places with Young in the lineup, is struggling, but he too is having a nice past couple of weeks. In the same amount of games as Young's stretch, Cuddyer has hit .321/.394/.536 with eight doubles, two triples and two home runs. He also hasn't hit into a double play since the Twins played the Boston Red Sox on May 19th.

At least swap Young and Jason Kubel, right? Again, no. Since May 25th, Kubel is hitting .323/.389/.692 with six doubles, six home runs and 16 RBI. As someone who has had a history of struggle against left-handed pitchers, Kubel's last two home runs have come against southpaws.

The middle of the Twins lineup is running on all cylinders right now, and nothing drastic needs to be changed there. If the Twins moved Young to fifth, would it make a big difference? Him hitting seventh is not the reason the Twins are 6-7 in June. Instead, that blame can be placed on players hitting .094/.164/.151 in the two-hole since his the injury to Orlando Hudson. Well, that and Justin Morneau hitting .255/.308/.468 over the same span, but that's besides the point.

I've singled out the offense (the two-hole in particular), because as a unit, it has only scored an average of 3.8 runs per game (not including Tuesday's game) since Hudson's injury. And to just show how much the Twins rely on Hudson, the offense averaged 4.9 runs per game (in the games Hudson played) before his injury.

I know people have grown tired of others saying, "the offense will turn around eventually" but I truly believe that the Twins lineup would benefit most by being healthy. When Hudson and J.J. Hardy return from injuries, it should be enough time for the Twins to decide what they want to do before the trade deadline. With guys like Mike Lowell and Mark Reynolds thought to be available, the Twins should have enough time to get a feel for their lineup before making their playoff run.

Give it time, there's no need to make any major changes just yet.

[Image courtesy of Yahoo.com]

June 1, 2010

Twins Minor League Month in Review: Rochester Red Wings - May

Rochester Red Wings (19-32, 5th in the International League - North)

             Team Leaders - Hitters                  Team Leaders - Pitchers    
             Hits: Danny Valencia - 54               Wins: Rob Delaney - 5
Avg: Jason Repko - .310 ERA: Kyle Waldrop - 1.47
OPS: Dustin Martin - .828 IP: Ryan Mullins - 46.33
HR: Brock Peterson - 6 K: Jeff Manship - 19
RBI: Dustin Martin - 33 Saves: Anthony Slama - 10
SB: Jason Repko - 8 WHIP: Anthony Slama - 0.79

After a 10-19 May, the Red Wings continue to slide down the standings. Despite having a very talented group of hitters and pitchers, the team hasn't been able to find its rhythm yet. The offense didn't score a lot of runs and the starting pitchers have struggled keeping the team in the game.

The Red Wings starters had a 6.26 ERA in May. There were six quality starts in May, but only one before May 21st. The unit got better as the month went on, which could be a sign of things to come. Anthony Swarzak returned to the rotation after missing a-month-and-a-half with a broken foot. In just his second start, he went seven innings and gave up only one run. His return and Glen Perkins suddenly piecing together a couple respectable starts could help fuel the Red Wings in June.

Deolis Guerra (#16) was called up following the release of Yoslan Herrera, and at just 21-years-old, he's shown his inexperience. Through four starts, Guerra is 0-3 with a 6.26 ERA. He has walked just six and has struck out 16 while inducing 30 ground-ball outs. He probably belongs in Double-A, but there isn't anyone from New Britain that has earned a promotion to Rochester.

Short Hops: Matt Fox has done a good job filling in as a starter, going 2-2 with a 2.84 ERA in five May starts. He hasn't walked a runner in 15 2/3 innings but has struck out seven in that same span.

The bullpen has a group of very talented relievers, headlined by Anthony Slama (#17), Kyle Waldrop and Rob Delaney (#26). The three combined to go 3-2 with a 2.34 ERA in 36 May appearances. Waldrop was unbelievable, allowing just two earned runs in 21 1/3 innings while walking five and striking out 16. Slama remains solid, but he continues to walk to many batters. He converted five saves in May and had a 1.98 ERA. Delaney, however didn't have such a great month. While it's easy to look past the fact that he had a 4.80 ERA on the month, you can't ignore that he allowed four of his seven inherited runners to score.

Although everyone is clamoring for Slama to be the first reliever to be called up, Waldrop might be the most likely. He's pitching the best and is already on the 40-man roster.

The offense wasn't great, in fact the only players that didn't see their numbers regress are Jose Morales, Matt Tolbert and Danny Valencia (#7). Tolbert hit .269/.318/.410 with seven extra-base hits in 78 at-bats. Valencia had a 20-game hit streak in which he hit .388/.409/.518 with 11 doubles. He finished May hitting .330/.384/.408 including .353/.463/.382 over his last 10 games. He still hasn't hit a home run, but that shouldn't be a big cause for concern to anyone. He's still hit 15 doubles on the season, which is tied for seventh most in the International League. Morales didn't play in April, but he hit .309/.397/.382 with four doubles and eight walks in 55 at-bats.

Trevor Plouffe (#24), Dustin Martin and Jason Repko all lead the offense in April, but each took a step back in May. Still, they all put up respectable numbers. Each hit between .278 and .291 with an OPS between .719 and .756. Together, they had 14 doubles, five home runs and 40 RBI in May.

But perhaps the most disappointing player on the Red Wings has been Wilson Ramos (#2), who continues to play with no motivation. While his .175/.321/.407 tri-slash line probably isn't effecting his prospect status very much, it's very, very irritating to see him play so badly. There have been reports that he's just not motivated by playing in Triple-A Rochester, but the Twins aren't going to reward him if he's hitting like this. Especially with Morales getting closer and closer to returning.

What's Next?: In 20 of their 30 games in June come against either first or second place teams in the International League...Luke Hughes (#25) has been on the disabled list with a strained groin since May 11th, but he will hopefully return to the Red Wings lineup at some point this month.... June is typically a very active month when it comes to player movement, and while none of the current Triple-A guys really threaten to be "Super-2"-type players, the Twins may call up Slama or Waldrop if they find a spot open in their bullpen or Valencia or Plouffe if they find a spot open in their infield... Also, make sure to watch Ben Revere (#4) in Double-A, who could surprise people with a promotion.

Twins Minor League Month in Review: New Britain Rock Cats - May

New Britain Rock Cats (14-36, 6th (last) in Eastern League Eastern Division)

               Team Leaders - Hitters                   Team Leaders - Pitchers    
               Hits: Ben Revere - 57                    Wins: Kyle Gibson - 3
Avg: Ben Revere - .315 ERA: Kyle Gibson - 1.37
OPS: Erik Lis - .812 IP: Mike McCardell - 57.67
HR: Steve Singleton - 4 K: Carlos Gutierrez - 40
RBI: Rene Tosoni - 21 Saves: Chris Province - 4
SB: Ben Revere - 18 WHIP: M. Williams/K. Gibson - 0.95

New Britain continued to struggle in May, with little improved from April. After winning only 25% of their games in April, they finished May with a 30% win percentage. The starting pitching continued to do well while the bullpen continues to struggle. The offense, however did make a big improvement, scoring 1.5 more runs per game.

The offensive leader of the month was without doubt Ben Revere. Revere hit .274/.361/.306 through 62 at-bats in April, but hit .336/.412/.429 in 119 May at-bats. He hit eight extra-base hits, including his first Double-A home run and walked almost twice as many times as he struck out. He also stole 12 bases, giving him 18 on the season, which is good for second most in the Eastern League.

Steve Singleton also had a great month, hitting .313/.355/.509 with 14 extra-base hits in 112 at-bats. He continues to struggle against left-handed pitching and with runners on-base, but Singleton is a solid all-around player who will get everything to click eventually. He probably won't be able to follow the "trend" of being promoted mid-season, like he's done since 2008, but it won't be because of poor play.

Yangervis Solarte was promoted to New Britain on May 12th. Since his promotion, Solarte has hit .312/316/.494 with eight extra-base hits. Solarte was the only consistent hitter in Ft. Myers, so with New Britain's offensive struggles, the Miracle lost their offensive leader. The Rock Cats have won eight of 19 games since Solarte's promotion. He doesn't have a set defensive position, but his bat is too good right now to keep out of the lineup. The Rock Cats will continue to find a place for Solarte as long as he continues to hit.

After getting off to a great start, Rene Tosoni struggled a bit in May. A shoulder injury has summoned Tosoni to full time DH duties, which may be effecting him a little. Tosoni's numbers in May weren't horrible, but they were down from April. He hit eight extra-base hits and walked 17 times in May, but his OPS dropped .134 points. His shoulder injury has prevented him from being called-up to Triple-A Rochester, and until he's able to play the field, he'll remain in New Britain.

The starters, as a collective unit, wasn't as good as their numbers suggest. Yes, they had a collective 3.97 ERA. But it weren't for Kyle Gibson and Carlos Gutierrez, that 3.97 ERA becomes a 5.21 ERA.

Gibson made four starts for the Rock Cats and despite moving up a level, his numbers were even better than they were in Advanced-A. Gibson was 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA and a 42/13 GB/FB ratio. He struggled in his last start, but he still went five innings and gave up only two runs. He's one of the hottest pitchers in the Minor Leagues right now, but he probably won't be moving through the system as quickly as people would think. The Twins have made it known that they will be careful with Gibson this year, as he's just a year removed from a stress fracture in his right forearm. Gibson may be in New Britain for a while, but I still wouldn't be surprised to see him in Triple-A Rochester before the year is done.

Carlos Gutierrez had a great month, posting a 2-2 record and a 2.15 ERA. He struck out 24 batters, walked 13 and had a 2.95 GB/FB ratio. I still think Gutierrez's future is as a closer, but he'll remain in the rotation as long as he's pitching like this. He has now appeared in 32 games with New Britain (half as a starter), and he has a 4.87 ERA.

Tyler Robertson, David Bromberg and Michael McCardell all struggled in May. Robertson made six starts on the month, one of which came for Triple-A Rochester, and was 0-5 with a 5.93 ERA. On a bright note, he did have a 48/13 GB/FB ratio on the month, He has only made it through five innings two times and continues to walk too many batters. After four April starts, David Bromberg looked to be on cruise control. But when May came, Bromberg lost all control of his pitches and started becoming very hittable. He finished May 1-3 with a 6.15 ERA. McCardell, has made 10 starts on the season and still hasn't won a game. But not all of the blame cane be placed on him. In each of McCardell's five May starts, the bullpen gave up an inherited runner. Also, three of the team's seven blown saves came when McCardell had started. Still, all three of these pitchers need to turn things around quickly, which can hopefully salvage the season from being a complete embarrassment.

The Achilles Heal for the Rock Cats this season has been the bullpen. After a 6.04 ERA in April, the Rock Cats pen had a 5.44 ERA in May. The unit blew seven saves in 10 opportunities and had a 3-7 record. They have allowed 33% of their inherited runners to score, but there were only nine games in which they didn't inherit a runner in the first place.

The biggest turnaround came from Chris Province, who lowered his ERA to 6.23 after having a 10.03 ERA following April. He was 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA and two saves in 13 appearances. Joe Testa also made an improvement, but he still had a disappointing month. His 5.17 ERA in May helped lower his season ERA to 8.22.

Matt Williams and Loek Van Mil were promoted from Ft. Myers, but neither have been lights out. Williams was 1-1 with a 3.95 ERA in 10 appearances for the Rock Cats. Van Mil only appeared in two games, and hasn't pitched since May 22nd.

Spencer Steedley, the Rock Cats best reliever, went on the disabled list with a forearm strain. He has been out since May 5th and there's no timetable for his return. The Rock Cats desperately need to revamp their relief corps, and getting Steedley back soon would definitely help.

What's Next?: June is typically a very busy month for promotions, and I do expect both Joe Benson (#11) or Chris Parmelee (#13) to return to New Britain at some point...The Rock Cats don't have a terribly difficult schedule in June, but they do face the Altoona Curve six times and the Trenton Thunder four times. The Curve lead the Eastern League West and the Trenton Thunder are second in the Eastern League East.

Twins Minor League Month in Review: Ft. Myers Miracle - May

Ft. Myers Miracle (21-29, 5th in the Florida State League - South)

             Team Leaders - Hitters                  Team Leaders - Pitchers    
             Hits: Evan Bigley - 40                  Wins: Michael Tarsi - 3
Avg: Chris Parmelee - .340 ERA: Bobby Lanigan - 2.67
OPS: Joe Benson - .925 IP: Michael Tarsi - 52
HR: Joe Benson - 4 K: Bruce Pugh - 47
RBI: Deibinson Romero - 40 Saves: Billy Bullock - 8
SB: Estarlin De Los Santos - 4 WHIP: Bobby Lanigan - 0.99

After winning just 38% of their games in April, the Ft. Myers Miracle improved in May to win 45% of their games. 7% isn't a lot, but it is improvement. What changed the most? The offense. After scoring just 2.9 runs per-game in April, the Miracle lineup scored 4.07 runs per-game in May. But while the lineup finally started to hit its stride, the starting pitching started to struggle.

Consensus top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson (#5) made just one May start for the Miracle before being promoted to Double-A New Britain. The Miracle replaced Gibson with Dan Osterbrock, which was thought to be a suitable replacement. Unfortunately, Osterbrock's success in the Midwest League hasn't been duplicated in the Florida State League, as he has had problems with consistency. Through five starts, three have been successful while two have not. He's struggled when runners have been on base, but hopefully he will turn it around in June.

But while Gibson's departure has hurt the Miracle, it wasn't the biggest blow the team suffered. Bobby Lanigan, who was arguably the best pitcher in the FSL in April, suffered an injury and hasn't pitched since May 6th. He's hoping to return in early June. But his injury allowed the Miracle to call up Beloit's ace, Liam Hendriks (#42). The right-handed Aussie has continued his 2010 campaign in Ft. Myers and is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in four starts for the Miracle. With the exception of one start, Hendriks has been impeccable on the mound. If taking his one poor start out, Hendriks is 2-0 with a 1.39 ERA, a 19/2 K/BB ratio, a 21/14 GB/FB ratio and a .169 BAA. Hendriks has sky-rocketed up prospect charts and is someone Twins fans should become familiar with.

Bruce Pugh also went down with an elbow injury after making three May starts. He had a 1.89 ERA and 24/5 K/BB ratio in 19 innings. He will hopefully be back in early June.

Michael Tarsi, Adrian Salcedo (#10) and Blake Martin combine made 11 starts and the three accounted for six loses and a combined 6.11 ERA. Tarsi's stats are a little deceiving, considering that he's really only had two horrible starts out of his last seven. In those two starts, Tarsi has given up 12 earned runs in 10 innings, raising his season ERA to 4.85. Salcedo was promoted from Extended Spring Training to make a few spot starts before eventually heading to the Appalachian Rookie League or Midwest League. Martin has been placed back in the bullpen after giving up 12 runs in 12 1/3 innings of work.

While the starting rotation struggled, the bullpen has officially turned things around after a rough start to the season. The unit finished May with a 2.94 ERA in 104 innings. They converted 10 of 12 saves and allowed only 29% of their inherited runners to score.

Tony Davis, Andrei Lobanov (#31) and Billy Bullock (#20) were the stars of the bullpen in May. Davis gave up only four earned runs in 16 1/3 innings. After struggling with his control in April, he had a 16/7 K/BB ratio in May, giving him 19 strikeouts and 16 walks on the season. Lobanov continues to show impressive control and has walked only three batters in 11 1/3 innings. The Russian native was 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 10 strikeouts in May. At this pace, I wouldn't be surprised to see Lobanov extend his stay in the Florida State League, despite being only 20-years-old. Between April and May, Bullock looked like a completely different pitcher. The 2009 2nd round pick gave up only one run in 16 May innings, striking out 23 and recording five saves over that same span. Bullock's turnaround caught the eye of the Florida State League and he was one of four Miracle players selected to the FSL All-Star Game.

As noted above, the offense also turned things around in May. The return of 2009 Miracle mashers Joe Benson (#11) and Chris Parmelee (#13) has helped the Miracle score an average of 4.29 runs per game since their return.

Benson's demotion to Ft. Myers caused an uproar throughout Twins Territory, but the 22-year-old Benson is not going to finish the season in the Florida State League, so Twins fans need to remain patient. Since his demotion, Benson is hitting .263/.364/.561 with four home runs and four stolen bases. Benson now has nine home runs on the season, which leads the Twins Minor League system.

Parmelee's demotion was more warranted (than Benson's), but he's making more of his demotion than his teammate is. A 1st round pick in 2006, Parmelee has always shown outstanding power with a lack of knowledge of the strikezone. But in his demotion, Parmelee has struck out as many times as he's walked, all while having a .491 slugging percentage. If Parmelee continues to hit the way he is, he'll be back in New Britain sooner rather than later.

Shortstop Estarlin De Los Santos (#40) joined Benson and Parmelee in Ft. Myers following his demotion, but got off to a very slow start. The defensively-gifted De Los Santos committed 10 errors in New Britain and has committed four in Ft. Myers. His glove has never been a question, however his arm has been subpar to say the least. He's continually bounced balls to first base and, which has resulted in three throwing errors for the Miracle.

Brian Dozier (#44) was called up after Ramon Santana (#39) landed on the disabled list, and he's handled the promotion well. Through 30 at-bats, Dozier has nine hits (two doubles) and a 9/5 BB/K ratio.

Chris Herrmann (#41) and Evan Bigley (#47) continue to struggle, but the two took part in 28% of the runs scored, by either being the runs scored or driving in the run. Both have potential to be solid players, so hopefully they'll turn things on in June.

What's Next?: Shooter Hunt (#48) made his first start of the season on May 30th. The Miracle have been trying to ease him back into a starting pitcher, but he may be best suited as a reliever right now... The Miracle have an extremely difficult schedule in June. They will play host to both division leaders, both of the second place teams and a third place team.... Aaron Hicks (#1) and Angel Morales (#2) aren't knocking the stuffing out of the ball in Beloit, but if Benson and Parmelee get promoted to New Britain, I'd expect both of Hicks and Morales to take their place in Ft. Myers....Twins reliever Pat Neshek will begin a rehab assignment in Ft. Myers beginning June 2nd.

Twins Minor League Month in Review: Beloit Snappers - May

Beloit Snappers (26-25, 5th in Midwest League Western Division)

             Team Leaders - Hitters                      Team Leaders - Pitchers    
             Hits: Aaron Hicks - 44                      Wins: Tom Stuifbergen - 4
Avg: Anderson Hidalgo - .316 ERA: Tom Stuifbergen - 1.09
OPS: Aaron Hicks - .793 IP: Miguel Munoz - 49.67
HR: Michael Gonzalez/Steven Liddle - 5 K: Miguel Munoz - 43
RBI: Angel Morales - 23 Saves: S. Blevins/K. Holbrooks - 6
SB: Angel Morales - 14 WHIP: Liam Hendriks - 1.06

(These stats are based on players being on the active roster only)

After getting off to a great start to the season, the Snappers found themselves at the top of the standings in the Midwest League Western Division. They were off to a 13-8 record and they were really playing well until a few promotions left the Snappers with a makeshift rotation. The thriving 2010 Beloit Snappers quickly turned back into the embarrassing 2009 Beloit Snappers, a team which finished with the second worst record in the Midwest League.

Upon first glance, it's easy to point fingers at the offense. After all, the Snappers offense ranks last in the Midwest League West in runs scored with 96 (an average of 3.84 runs per game). That number didn't change much as Beloit averaged 3.45 runs through the 31 games the team played in May. But what did change was that the pitching staff was giving up a lot more runs.

After giving up only 2.38 runs per game in April, the starters gave up 4.33 runs per game in May. Allowing two runs more per game will cripple any team, especially with this offense. Dan Osterbrock and Liam Hendriks (#42), the Snappers two best pitchers, were both promoted to Advanced-A Fort Myers in early May. Neither of their spots in the rotation have been adequately replaced, despite the promotions of top prospects Michael Tonkin (#30) and B.J. Hermsen (#12)

The 13-foot, 1-inch Tower of Tonkin and Hermsen has struggled to find consistency. Each has made four starts, one of which was good. Both Tonkin and Hermsen had 7 innings gems in which they didn't allow a run or a walk. But taking in account that both of these pitchers are a year younger than the league average, their combined 4.09 ERA in 40 innings looks pretty darn good. Their height gives them an advantage on the mound, and that advantage is that they're able to induce a good amount of ground-ball outs. The two have a combined 1.45 GB/FB ratio.

One player the Snappers expected were counting on was Michael Munoz. The 6'2'' right-hander from Venezuela was 0-0 with a 2.75 in four April starts. But in May, Munoz was 1-4 with a 6.30 ERA in six starts. Another player the Snappers were counting on was Tom Stuifbergen (#29). Stuifbergen was 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA in six appearances (five starts) until he strained his elbow after making just one start in May. He missed the remainder of the month, but thankfully he is now set to return after making an appearance as a reliever on May 27th. Stuifbergen is the Snappers best bet at replacing Hendriks.

While the rotation tries to find itself again, the bullpen continues to remain consistent. The bullpen had a 3.55 ERA through 109 May innings, lowering the units' season ERA to 3.67.

Eliecer Cardenas was recalled from Extended Spring Training on May 7th, and the 22-year-old right-hander has done a great job in his first month in the MWL. He is 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA in 15 2/3 innings. He has a "live arm" with a lot of movement on all of his pitches, so it's not surprise that he's walked eight batters. But on the plus side of that, he's struck out 18.

After not allowing a run in April, Kane Holbrooks started turning the heads of many Minor League fans. And he continued his consistency in May, posting a 2.16 ERA in 16 2/3 innings. Holbrooks allowed four runs, three of which came off of two home runs. He struck out 27 batters while only walking four, to give him a 41/7 K/BB ratio on the season. He also has been able to induce a lot of ground-ball outs thanks to a great repertoire consisting of a fastball, slider and change-up. He has only been pitching since 2008, so he's still a work in progress. But so far, so good.

Offensively, the Snappers saw a lot of slumping hitters in the month of May. With the exception of a couple batters, everyone saw their offensive production drop significantly.

The offense relies heavily on Aaron Hicks (#1), and unfortunately, May was a month he'd like to forget. The 2008 first-round pick hit .214/.321/.313 in 112 at-bats. The one-time patient Hicks struck out twice as many times as he walked, putting him on pace for 138 strikeouts through 450 at-bats. At the same time, he'd also walk 83 times in that span. In April, Hicks hit three home runs in half as many at-bats that it took him to hit one in May. His 2009 stats and 2010 stats are eerily similar, so hopefully Hicks takes a step forward in June.

The only consistent offensive player the Snappers have had this season is Anderson Hidalgo. Hidalgo isn't a player a lot of Twins fans may not know, but he might be someone worth paying attention to. Since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2006, Hidalgo has hit consistently at each level he has played, and 2010 is no exception. Hidalgo hit .317/.349/.475 in May with 14 extra-base hits. With 13 doubles in May, he is now one behind the league lead of 16.

Short Hops: Since getting hit on the head on May 22nd, Angel Morales (#6) is hitting .296/.367/.556 with a double and three triples.

James Beresford isn't considered an offensively-gifted player, most of his value comes from his outstanding defense and other intangibles that don't show up on stat sheets. However in May, Beresford hit .291/.345/.345 with five extra-base hits. Those numbers aren't anything to write home about, but it speaks volumes of how bad the Snappers offense actually was in May.

Since I went to Beloit, I figured it'd be appropriate that I provided some kind of recap/thoughts from my trip (NOTE: Remember, I only saw two games, so a lot of this is based on knee-jerk reactions. But with that said, I feel very comfortable with everything I'm about to say. But take it however you'd like):

  • I feel Seth Stohs summed up Beloit (as a city) pretty well here and here, so I won't really add anything else to that except that Chicago is only a couple hours away, so maybe try to get there (or even Milwaukee) during a long downtime. While Beloit's not a podunk town, it's not titillating either.
  • Seth and I share the same opinions on a lot of players, however I feel I should emphasize some of the things he said in case you didn't read it.
  • Aaron Hicks is very quick and has a great arm, those things are immediately clear to anyone. He stands over the plate and has a very quick swing, which he shows in this video:

  • He took a few bad routes to balls, but he looks to be able to handle both center and right field effectively. He needs to improve on his base-stealing ability. Overall, I was impressed with him, but he has a lot of work to do.
  • Angel Morales has a very nice swing and just missed on a few breaking pitches. He also is fast out of the box and has a good arm. Despite having a problem with strikeouts over his career, he didn't look inept against breaking pitches. As mentioned, he fouled a few of them off and just missed on several.
  • Danny Rams' (#22) power impressed me, especially his opposite field power. He took a few pitches to right field, and the balls kept carrying. Even on Saturday when the wind was blowing to left center. Against breaking pitches though, unfortunately he looked absolutely lost. In his last at-bat that I saw, he struck out on a slider that bounced in the left-handed batters box.
  • Reggie Williams (#46) looks pretty raw both offensively and defensively, but there's clearly potential. He made a few nice plays at third plays and a few plays that made me uneasy, but overall he held his ground. I'd think that his best defensive positions would either be second base or left field. He doesn't throw very hard, but he does have accuracy from third to first. He also has a very quick swing and he drove the ball several times.
  • As Seth mentioned, James Beresford was the most impressive player, hands down. He has a good approach at the plate and takes a lot of pitches. He hit the ball hard, but it doesn't travel very far, and he'd probably benefit from a two-handed follow-through. Defensively, there's no question about his ability. If the ball is hit to him, he will get to it. He also is a leader on the field and was apart of every pitcher-catcher conference on the mound. His intangibles are impeccable and I think that he's more than ready for a promotion.
  • Michael Tonkin threw his fastball a lot, and he left a lot of his pitches up. Surprisingly, he doesn't look 6'7'' on the mound, but off of it, there's no question (not sure if that means anything, just something I observed. Could be because signs in the background). He has a lot of things to work on.
  • Edgar Ibarra was probably the most impressive pitcher I saw. It might be because I didn't have high expectations before seeing him play, but he certainly knows how to pitch. He has good control of his pitches, despite (surprisingly) walking a lot of batters, and his delivery is very smooth. His stat line for the game looked bad, but Eliecer Cardenas gave up three inherited runners when he came into the game. He doesn't overpower anyone, but he has good movement on his pitches.
  • Short Hops: Daniel Santana doesn't belong in the MWL, but he does have a rocket arm. He's also my size, when I was in 7th grade.
  • Short Hops: Brian Dozier (#44) is a singles-hitter who looks like J.J. Hardy on the basepaths.
  • Short Hops: Michael Gonzalez has a very, very long swing. Which is why he's an all or nothing hitter.
  • Short Hops: Dakota Watts throws gas.
  • Short Hops: Eliecer Cardenas has a lot of movement on all of his pitches.
  • Short Hops: Tobias Streich is frustrating to watch at the plate and doesn't have a strong throwing arm.
  • Short Hops: Josmil Pinto (#27) can sting the ball.
  • As for the field? It's pretty bad. I wasn't expecting much, but the infield was very bouncy and balls took a lot of weird hops. The complex as a whole is alright, but they definitely need a new field.

What's Next?: The Snappers will play four series against the Midwest League East before facing the Midwest League Western division leaders Cedar Rapids in the middle of the month. They will then play six games against the Clinton LumberKings (separated by the MWL All-Star Game) before heading home to face the Cedar Rapids Kernals again....Tom Stuifbergen will make his return to the Snappers rotation on June 1st against Lake County....With the short-season Rookie Leagues starting this month, several players may be sent to either Elizabethton, TN to play in the Appalachian Rookie League or to Fort Myers, FL to play in the Gulf Coast League.